We open on the beach at night, a car stuffed with laughing young adults zooms across the sand, its headlights illuminating the scene as the engine roars. They stop and a twenty-something, short-haired woman named Clara tells her companions that she’s got a new song for them. She pulls out a cassette and the bass line of Queen’s Another One Bites the Dust kicks in. We’re in Bazil, 1980, or thereabouts, and life for these four individuals seems to brim with possibility.
Cut to the present day and Clara (played now by Sonia Braga) is a now retired, and widowed, music journalist still living in the apartment where she raised her children. It’s a fashionably lived-in space, with a hammock by a window overlooking the Atlantic and walls lined with books and vinyl records which she periodically takes down to play as her mood suits. Not that she lives in the past: she’s perfectly content, and even excited to receive a memory stick full of new MP3 files from her nephew.
Director, Kleber Mendonça Filho keeps the pace leisurely, as we live with Clara for a period; learning her loves, lusts and curiosities, and encountering the friends and family that orbit her. She’s living in a dangerous world though. Signs on the beach warn of the dangers of shark attack, her friend the lifeguard points out the drug dealers on the beach and the height of the waves, and her housekeeper recently lost her son in a hit and run.
Most sinister however, are the local real-estate developers who employ increasingly drastic means to try to buy her out of her apartment so that they might demolish the block for a larger tower. All of the other residents have already moved out, and the corporate entitlement – and ultimately corruption – depicted is all too believable, especially coming from the bratty, US-educated grandson of the developer’s director.
Braga is fantastic as the retiree who refuses to accept the label of “stubborn old woman” that others seek to impose upon her, and her performance helps to make Aquarius’ measured character study an absolute pleasure to bear witness to. Generous and open, the film is a potent anti-capitalist protest song, that – in addition to its anger and frustration – is also full to bursting with with music, love, sex and laughter.